‘It blew our budget by a massive amount’: four couples break down their wedding costs – The Guardian

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Weddings are expensive. That much we know.

The average cost of a wedding in the US in 2023 was $35,000, according to industry website The Knot. In the UK, the average cost of a wedding was £20,700.

But what do those numbers represent? How much does it actually cost to buy wedding invitations, rent a venue or organize one of those sparkler exits?

“Everybody warns you about how expensive it is to plan a wedding, but it is hard to grasp until you start getting quotes,” says Haley Harries, who married her husband, Jack, in Texas in 2021.

To get a better understanding of wedding costs, we asked four couples to break down exactly what their nuptials cost.

Haley, 33, and Jack Harries, 33

Dallas, Texas

Occupations: marketing manager and attorney
Salaries: $80,000 and $100,000 at the time of wedding
Year of wedding: 2021

Initial wedding budget: $40,000
Final wedding cost: $60,000

Haley: We wanted a “garden” style wedding with an outdoor ceremony and indoor reception. My parents offered to give us $20,000 for the wedding, and Jack’s mom offered to pay for the rehearsal dinner. The additional money came from our combined savings.

We continuously questioned whether we were being stupid going through with this instead of investing the money into a house. We felt we didn’t go overboard with what we planned, and it still blew our budget by a massive amount.

In the end, it truly was the best day of our lives and was worth it.

Venue: $7,500 for the White Sparrow, a wedding venue, in Quinlan, Texas.

Catering: $11,037 – Italian buffet and hors d’oeuvres for cocktail hour.

Alcohol: $2,000 – we purchased it on our own (it was way more expensive through the catering company) and then took back anything that was unopened after the wedding.

Music: $3,800 – the DJ happened to be our next-door neighbor and gave us a friends and family discount.

Rehearsal dinner: $5,000

Photographer: $5,500

Videographer: $1,200

Wedding planner/day-of coordinator: $3,200

Decor: $2,760 – this included an arch and rugs for the ceremony, seating chart made with materials from Home Depot, a custom signature drink sign and disco balls.

Florals: $4,970

Transportation: $1,485

Cake: $550 – a small cake for Jack and me to cut and mini cakes for guests.

Hair and makeup: $400

Wedding favors: $996 – bags for those staying in the hotel block we booked and Whataburger taquitos and sandwiches to give to guests as they left.

Stationery: $1,187

Rings (wedding bands only): $1,125

Wedding attire: $5,104 – the bride’s dress and alterations were $4,000, the groom’s tux was $1,004 and the bride’s rehearsal dinner dress was $100.

Bridesmaid and groomsman gifts: $800

Exit car and sparklers: $564

Custom koozies, bar cups and bar napkins: $801

Gifts for parents: $281

Gifts for each other: $400

Rashmi, 31, and Michael, 31 (pseudonyms)

Manassas, Virginia

Occupations: marketing manager and associate producer
Salaries: $130,000 and $80,000
Year of wedding: 2022

Initial wedding budget: $75,000
Final wedding cost: about $91,000

Rashmi: We didn’t have a specific vision for what we wanted it to look like. We mainly tried to make it as convenient as possible for people to attend from all over the world. We wanted to make sure the food was good, that the DJ played the music we wanted, and that we could maximize time spent with friends and family.

My parents had saved $40,000 [as a gift], and as a couple we had around $35,000 saved. We didn’t want to have to finance with credit cards. Somehow we spent too much money and yet not enough. While it was the best weekend of my life, I don’t know that it made sense to spend so much. However, in my culture, your wedding is pretty much the biggest moment of your life so we had to go all-out.

The wedding industry is a huge scam and it’s refreshing to see more people having less traditional weddings to circumvent having to spend so much money.


  • For the wedding: $38,000

  • For the sangeet, a pre-wedding ceremony focused on song and dance: $6,400


  • Haldi, a pre-wedding purification ceremony: $285 – Indian-style pizza.

  • Sangeet: $2,500 – catered by an Indian restaurant in Manassas.

  • Wedding day: included in venue cost

Alcohol: $1,500

Music and lighting: $8,900

Photographer and videographer: $4,600

Wedding planner/day-of coordinator: no planner; day-of coordinator included in venue fee.

Decor: $8,200

  • For the sangeet: table centerpieces, a backdrop for dance performances and a mehendi station.

  • For the wedding: mandap (wedding canopy) for the wedding ceremony, table centerpieces and decoration for the stage at the reception.

Garlands: $530 – in the wedding ceremony, the exchanging of flower garlands is the point where the bride and groom recognize each other as partners.

Transportation: $900 – rental cars for family.

Hair and makeup: $1,650 – for bride and mother of the bride for the sangeet and wedding day.

Wedding favors: $350

Stationery: $0 – provided by family friend, gratis.

Wedding attire: $2,600

  • Bride: three lehenga cholis (a formal South Asian three-piece outfit consisting of a long skirt known as a lehenga, a fitted top known as a choli and a dupatta or scarf) for the sangeet, wedding ceremony and reception.

  • Groom: a kurta set (a long, loose tunic and pants) for the sangeet, a sherwani (a fitted, knee length coat) for the wedding ceremony and a rental tuxedo for the reception.

  • Bridesmaids: five lehenga cholis.

  • Groomsmen: five kurta sets.

  • Mother of the bride: three outfits for the sangeet, wedding ceremony and reception.

  • Father of the bride: three outfits for the sangeet, wedding ceremony and reception.

  • Groom’s family: clothing was purchased by them and not included in the cost.

Dance floor monogram: $1,800

Horse for Baraat (the procession that escorts the groom to the wedding ceremony; traditionally the groom is seated on a white horse): $767

Priest: $1,900

Mehendi artist: $700 – bridal henna tattoos and henna tattoos for guests at the sangeet.

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Reception in India: Paid for by family in India.

Violet, 35, and Sam, 34 (pseudonyms)


Occupations: editor in schools publishing and senior development manager in tech
Salaries: £29,000 and £50,000
Year of wedding: 2023

Initial wedding budget: around £10,000
Final wedding cost: £14,700

Violet: It was a non-negotiable for me to get married in a church. For the reception, we wanted to have an outdoor space or room for kids to run around, and for everyone to have a good meal and some dancing.

We were very fortunate that my dad paid for the wedding venue. My mum paid for the wedding dress and veil. My aunt paid for my flowers and the groom and best man’s buttonholes. My spouse and I paid for everything else from our savings, split evenly.

It’s an expensive business! Often, mentioning the word “wedding” seems to jack up the price. It was a lot of money, but it mattered to us to have all our friends and family there. We couldn’t have done that much more cheaply in the city we wanted to get married in.


  • Church + vicar fee (including drinks after the service): £1,400

  • Reception venue: £9,000

Catering: included in venue fees.

Alcohol: included in venue fees.

Music: £350

Rehearsal dinner: not applicable

Photographer: £500

Wedding planner/day-of coordinator: help from the pub events manager included in venue fee.

Decor: £0 – venue included table runners and fairy lights. Potted succulents at each table – the pots were decorated at the hen party and the succulents were grown by groom’s mother.

Florals: £240

Transportation: £1,000

Cake: made by groom’s mother with edible pansy flowers and painted wooden figures of the bride and groom.

Hair and makeup: $0 – the bride and bridal party did it themselves.

Wedding favors: no additional cost. Guests were encouraged to take the potted succulents home.

Stationery: £130

Rings: £600

Wedding attire: £690

Wedding insurance: £85

Two swing dancing lessons to prepare the first dance: £50

Hotel for 2 nights near church: £400

Extra singer for wedding choir: £50 (otherwise choir was made up of friends)

Brandon Regueiro, 40, and Marlies Nelson, 42

Moreno Valley, California

Occupations: educators
Salaries: about $200,000 combined
Year of wedding: 2021

Initial wedding budget: as cheap as possible
Final wedding cost: $2,700 (rings not included)

Brandon: We wanted to have a wedding without waiting another year or two, and talked about having a separate reception later, but it never happened. We wanted to invite people, but truly struggled to draw a line. It felt like all or nothing with all our friends and my massive family. We only invited our parents. Our officiant was my cousin, and she brought her husband.

We felt good about keeping costs down, but we did feel like we missed out on some of the big wedding things. But our priority was and still is our family, so saving that money for our newborn and new marriage was an easy decision.

Venue: $0 – we used Brandon’s abuela’s backyard, though they redid her fountain for $600.

Catering: $680 – sushi and Graeter’s ice cream.

Alcohol: $60 – craft beer.

Music: $0 – playlist on old phone.

Officiant: $0 – a cousin did it.

Rehearsal dinner: not applicable

Photographer/videographer: $0 – a friend did it.

Wedding planner/day-of coordinator: not applicable

Decor (including florals): $700

Transportation: not applicable

Cake: $200

Hair and makeup: $8.99 – a hair accessory.

Wedding favors: not applicable

Stationery: not applicable

Rings: redacted, because “Marlies doesn’t know how much I spent.”

Wedding attire: $200 for bride, $200 for groom.

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